Friday, May 29, 2009

Hitting the Mark...or not

Tommy, a Dolly Grip pushing a show in Michigan sent in a email saying I should write a post on marks. When is it critical to hit them? How important are they? My answer is, you should ALWAYS hit your marks.......until it's time not to. Most of us come up hearing, "Marks are just references, it's most important to watch the actors blah blah blah." True. Marks are what allow us to recreate a move sequence down to the inch...........with second team* We all know, however that a lot of actors rarely, if ever, do the same thing the same way twice. Things happen during a scene. Furniture gets moved, extras stray from their designated path, the actor thinks, "my character wouldn't stop by that chair." This randomness is part of what keeps us from being replaced by servos and motors. It's also what gives us a certain amount of control over how a shot looks. We have to make split-second decisions about where the camera should be at any given time during a move and adjust to keep the lens where it should be. This sometimes results in "disregarding" the marks. Say I'm doing a parallel move with an actor from one end of a room to another. He's walking along, we're in sync. Suddenly, he stops five feet short of his mark. Rather than blowing through to my mark, it's my job to stop the dolly to match (and make it look like it was supposed to happen). Or, same shot, say he lands on his mark, but an errant extra has shifted a little too far to the right and will block him from lens at this mark. You see this impending situation, shoot through the mark enough to clear, the shot is saved. A good AC will also see this coming and adjust focus accordingly. If this actor hits his mark and everything's cool, you should nail it. Another example- say your doing an opening pull back and stop. Some actor walks into frame, you push back in with him, not necessarily matching distances, as he goes to another mark and stops. If he stops 4 inches shy- hit your mark. If he overshoots by 4 inches-hit your mark. The reason? Your position on that mark is the one anchor the AC has in the room that's constant. If he sees you are on your mark, he automatically knows how much the actor is off by and can adjust. On a completely aesthetic move- a dolly down a row of pictures, a push in on a flashing bomb- you should nail your mark. Marks are important and hitting them while not watching them is an art unto itself. It's a technique that's developed over time that involves quick flicks of the eye to them and back to the subject, and a kind of hyper-awareness of where the dolly is in the space. A Dolly Grip who consistently hits his or her marks is much appreciated by focus pullers and camera operators. I've had more than one thank me when I've hit marks and I ask them don't most Dolly Grips hit their marks? They say a lot aren't even in the same zip code, which makes their job harder.
One my favorite things to do is a walk and talk pull back. This is a real test of your distance judging. You have to pull back with actors, holding the exact distance, and land exactly when they land. It's always cool to reach the end of the shot and land precisely on your mark as they land on theirs. It's even cooler to reach the end and land two feet short of your mark as they are two feet short of theirs, glance up at the Panatape readout, and see that it's the same distance you started at. Now there are ways to help yourself with this shot, but I'm not going to go into that today (no it most certainly does not involve dragging a string or a laser). Thanks Tommy for the suggestion.
I will reiterate that any of you experienced guys out there who want to write a post yourselves are welcome to email me one and I'll clean it up, and paste it onto it's own post. I won't use your name if you ask, but I would like to know who you are privately just so I know who I'm dealing with. I know a lot of you are aspiring writers so this is your chance to speak to a community of Dolly Grips that literally spans the globe. Send it in!

*"Second Team," for those not in the film business, refers to Stand-In's. These are people who are hired to recreate the actor's movements during lighting and camera blocking, so that the actors can go to makeup after rehearsal. "First Team" are the actual actors.

Completely off-topic, every now and then I like to recommend movies or shows that I think have particularly good work in them and send some good press to someone who has earned it. This time it's Catch Me If You Can, Spielberg's film about a teenage master con artist. I caught it last week on cable and had forgotten how good the work was. Jerry Bertolami delivers a master class on how it's done. The camera never stops, and the moves are flawless (and Jerry's a nice guy). So check it out.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Problems Commenting?

Hi Guys. There seems to be some problem getting the comments to post. I don't know where the problem lies yet but I have noticed a big drop off in commenting lately (I just assumed you were all at work). If you have had a problem commenting and haven't already, please send me an email at dollygrippery at gmail dot com and let me know so I can try and diagnose it. Also, try choosing the Google designation if you are signed in on your Google account and "Anonymous" or "Name/URL" if you don't seem to belong to any of the other choices that come up when you comment . Meanwhile, it would really help me if as many of you as can would leave comments so I can see how pervasive the problem is. If it's not working, shoot me an email and tell me exactly what you did. The comments are the heart of the site, where we all communicate. If they aren't working the site's not working, so let me know something.

Monday, May 25, 2009

When You Are Operator's Choice

For the most part, most of us are hired by the Key Grip. Usually someone we've been with a while. This keeps things easy. We're with a crew we know well and are friends with. I've been with my regular Key for about 15 years, 10 of that as his dolly grip. Some of us, however are brought onto a job every now and then by camera operator who likes us. This can get a little hairy when coming onto a grip crew as an operator request. You're basically putting the dolly grip they all know out of work. It can get a little awkward. My B camera dolly, who just left a few weeks ago to do "A" on a show, was a particular Director's request for years. A very well known director who pretty much gets his way. He told stories about the last show he was brought into and the stone wall of alienation the grip crew, mostly the Key and Best Boy, put up against him. It ain't fun. I've been on the other end of this as well. Your Key calls and says he has a show, 12 weeks in (insert exotic location here) and he'll call back with details. A week goes by and then he calls and says the operator has his own guy and it's kind of out of his hands, but you can do "B" if you like. No thanks. It ain't easy being on that end of it either. I bring this up because an operator friend of mine recently requested me for a show in (insert exotic location here). It got me thinking and sounded like a good post. We all hope our Key will stick his neck out and say, "I want my guy and that's it." And mine has done that, which led to 12 of the most hellish weeks in my career at the hands of a DP who found new and petty ways to make my life hard every day. No thanks. So it could go either way. For you grip crews out there, just realize that the guy the operator is bringing in is just a guy who got offered a job, and he took it. Just like you did. You don't have to be his best friend, but just treat him with a little decency and respect. For the operators who had to use the Key's regular guy...ditto. Give him a shot. He may be better than what you're used to. There's no reason to be a jackass to someone just because it's not who you wanted. Either way, it's just a few weeks. If whoever it is is honestly not getting the job done, then replace him, but don't be petty. There's enough of that in this business.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

JL Fisher Open House a Success!

I attended the Open House on Saturday and must say that they did a great job. There was a large crowd and plenty to look at as well as barbecue and beer (Beer!). The first sight that greeted me as I rounded the corner was track. Everywhere. There was track and dollies curving and twisting all among several vendors set up under 20x silks covering the lot. I also sat in on a portion of the Moving Camera panel and it was nicely done. Funny and informative. Some really nice things were said about the Dolly Grip's contribution to the filmaking process by the DPs, ACs, and Operators sitting on the stage. I saw several familiar faces I hadn't seen in years. Lloyd Moriarity was a panelist and it was great to see him again after almost 20 years as well as Donald M Morgan who I worked with a few years back. Most of the comments came back to the things we've all been saying here: Be a team with your operator (and AC), keep your ears open and your mouth shut. I also met some new friends. Rick Davis, a veteran Key Grip, with Grip411 was onhand in a booth with his latest equipment directory and a copy of his newsletter Crew and Review. His book is a must have for Keys, Best Boys, and Dolly Grips. It has specs as well as info on where to get almost any piece of specialty equipment you could need. Please check them out at I'll have more about them in a later post. There were also booths for several other companies including: O'Connor, Panavision, and Hot Gears (and Beer!). If you missed it this year, you should try and make it next year.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Don't Forget the Open House this Weekend

Just a reminder about the JL Fisher Open House this weekend, May 16th. I'll probably be there and hope to see you!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Upcoming Posts and Tips

Sorry guys, I'm coming off one of the rarest of scheduling occurances, the reverse split. 1 am call downtown after two weeks of nights. I also, as you know, lost my phone and now my computer is acting up so I'm writing from the camera truck. Anyway, when I get time and a chance I have some upcoming things to think about- the rarity of decent birch, hydraulic leaks, safetying a camera and some more things. I also want to put out a call to our regular readers for some material of your own. It's hard for Azurgrip and myself to always come up with new ideas so I welcome ideas and posts of your own. I want to make this place kind of an online magazine for Dolly Grips so if you have an idea, write up a post and email it to me at dollygrippery at gmail dot com.
For now, I want to start a little discussion on tips. We all have little things we do that we've developed on our own over time that help us save time or effort. If you have one, email it to me (or leave in the comments). I would rather have you email it so I can put all of them together in one post and attribute them to the sender. I'll kick it off.
For a quick surface to hold over -the -shoulders or make small adjustments, most people throw down planks or a 4x8 sheet. To make things easier, I bring in two of my 2x8 plywood pieces and lay them out with about an 18" space between them (much like you would planks) and go crab on them. This still gives me a little over 18" of mobility (give or take) in and out as well as the 8' right and left and they're easier to maneuver into a set than a full 4x8. this is a big help when the DP wants to tighten up or widen out a little. I rarely use planks, I just don't like them, but these offer a dance floor surface that is variable size wise and goes in quickly. That's my tip of the day, send me yours.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Rebuilding the Phone List

Got my new phone. If I have ever spoken to you on the phone, please email me your phone # because they're gone.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Out of Touch

Due to the splits and nights and returns to splits, I am a little slow to answer comments, texts,emails, etc. Oh yeah, I also ran my Blackberry through a cycle in the washing machine which it found very objectionable. Hope to be back in the loop by tomorrow.